R.I.P. Interview. Here's what killed Andy Warhol's iconic magazine

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A wall of Interview magazine covers is one of the displays at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.
A wall of Interview magazine covers is one of the displays at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. Credit: Photo by Archie Carpenter/Getty Images

When the news started to trickle out today via social media that Interview magazine is shutting down, I immediately texted two old friends—one an editor, the other an actor—I thought would care. The actor texted back,

I didn't even know it was still alive.

The editor texted back,

Oh man. Brutal.

Those two responses approximate how I feel about the demise of the magazine, which Andy Warhol cofounded in 1969. On the one hand, it's a tough death to take—because for many people in media, the magazine was iconic; it introduced generations of culture consumers to cutting-edge artists, actors, writers and more. (For years I unhesitatingly carted heavy boxes of all the issues I grew up with in the late '80s and early '90s every time I moved.) On the other hand, what took so long for it to die?

We're actually just short of the 11-year anniversary of the publication of a quasi-obit for Interview titled "A Celeb-Loving Mag Out of Sync With a Celeb-Loving Culture." I remember it because I wrote it. Back then, Interview's longtime owner, the wealthy art collector Peter Brant, was rumored to be putting the magazine on the block (he never did sell, and the shutdown that's happening is his decision). I wondered back then if Brant could find a buyer and speculated that "it might be too late" for the magazine, given how the culture had passed it by:

Sure, plenty of media outlets still gush and fawn over celebrities—but Interview is unique in the extent to which it utilizes celebrities to gush and fawn over themselves. The June issue, for instance, features not one but two curiously clueless, entirely uninformed interviews with indie pop star Rufus Wainwright, conducted over the phone by "two of his pals," actress Sienna Miller and "Saturday Night Live" cast member Amy Poehler. (Sienna: "Hi, my darling. Are you in New York City?" Rufus: "I am ...") Elsewhere in the issue, interviewer Alan Cumming tells his interviewee, "Aw, I love you, Cyndi Lauper." (Lauper responds, "I love you too, Al.")

The Interview magazine of that era, I added, was "meant to come off chummy, clubby—but this club feels dangerously sealed off from reality. It feels airtight; it feels like a sarcophagus."

More recently, Interview had been putting a heavy emphasis on gorgeous fashion spreads, but its core celebrities-gushing-about-celebrities m.o. remained. (Somehow when Warhol was still alive that sensibility came off as deadpan affect, but in the post-TMZ era it just felt tone-deaf.) For instance, a conversation in the March issue—which introduced a handsome redesign and carried the coverline "A TIME FOR CHANGE"—was titled "Supermodel Iman wants widespread education and earnest activism." The interview was conducted by the actress Rosario Dawson and began,

I want to start by saying how much I love you, Iman, and how blessed I've always felt knowing you. I've watched you start a cosmetics company that was inclusive, and I've watched you work to save children and highlight the issues of conflict minerals with the Enough Project. Where did the drive to help people come from?

Oh geez.

I'll quote one more passage from my 2007 observations about the magazine:

Skimming through today's Interview ... is a surreally nostalgic, oddly wistful experience. I've written frequently in this column and elsewhere about the transmogrification of contemporary fame—about how, as celebrity has exploded, it's also simultaneously been reduced (the Us Weekly "They're Just Like Us!" effect), pathologized (the "Page Six" effect), monetized (the In Style effect), deconstructed (the "Behind the Music" effect), cheapened (the reality-TV effect) and degraded (the Paris Hilton effect).

Keep in mind that in 2007, Instagram was three years away from being born. In its heyday, Interview not only celebrated celebrities, it helped mint young stars. Now, in the visual/entertainment-culture space at least, wannabe stars mint themselves on Instagram. Among them: 71-year-old Peter Brant's twentysomething enfant terrible sons (with supermodel Stephanie Seymour) Peter Brant Jr. and Harry Brant—both of whom have Instagram-verified accounts with 100,000-plus followers.

Twenty or even ten years ago, you can imagine that the socialite sons of an art-world heavyweight would have been delighted that their dad owned Interview. But what are the chances that young Peter and Harry can be bothered to page through the magazine? They're clearly too busy posing for selfies poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel or taking pictures of mom wearing Balenciaga.

You don't need Interview for any of that.

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